Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Dem Bones!

A prime purpose, for me, of this visit to Paris was to get inside the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle with a camera. It turns out, however, that the MNHN is a multi-site affair – fourteen sites, no less – and even its main presence in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris is split into four separate institutions, plus a zoo. Being mainly interested in stuffed, flayed and excarnated critters, I chose to visit the Grand Galerie de l'Évolution and the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée.

Two more different institutions covering such similar ground would be hard to imagine. The Grand Galerie de l'Évolution, from my point of view, was a bit of a bust. The building has been extensively and expensively renovated and the collection has been re-interpreted to give an educational take on various aspects of evolution. But it is as dark as a church in there, with tiny spotlights barely illuminating the exhibits; partly in the interests of preservation, partly (one suspects) to conceal the tattiness of some of the taxidermy, but mainly to lend a specious air of drama to what is, after all, quite a dry subject. Frankly, it's boring, and the many restless children in there seemed to agree with me. I got a few shots, but nothing of the sort I was after, and left after 30 minutes or so.

Now that's a staircase...

But the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée which I visited next... Oh, my ears and whiskers (not to mention virtually any other conceivable bit of anatomy), what a place! I would guess that the last time it was redecorated would have been around 1957, and the last time the collection was "interpreted" was somewhere in the 19th century. It simply is what it is: a delightful Enlightenment charnel-house of comparative anatomy and fossils, fully lit by natural daylight, and set out in the systematic chaos of Wunderkammer plenitude. You want to compare viscera? Skeletons? Eyeballs? Pulmonary systems? Check 'em out!

Holy crapauds!

Most encouraging of all, the place was popular (I had to queue for 20 minutes to get in), and full of excited children. I got lots of pictures and, like those kids, was on a mounting high of grisly enthusiasm throughout; this museum pushes the "eek!" factor to 11. If you're ever in Paris, it's a must-see, before some new-broom curator decides the place could do with a bit more atmosphere, and a little less stuff.

Cuvier compared

Never mind the plaster, check out the ammonites

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